Moderato Cantabile Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 46 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Moderato Cantabile.
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Moderato Cantabile Summary & Study Guide Description

Moderato Cantabile Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Moderato Cantabile by Marguerite Duras.

Anne Desbaresdes accompanies her child to piano instruction in a downtown apartment. The piano lesson is interrupted by a prolonged scream, which comes from a cafe near the apartment. After the piano lesson, Anne enters a large crowd gathered around the cafe and observes a dead woman, bleeding from the mouth, inside the cafe. The woman's husband crouches over the body in grief. The police arrest the man and take him away. Anne comes to understand that the man has murdered his wife, shooting her through the heart upon the wife's request.

Anne's life is regimented, repetitive, and constrained. She is a society wife, married to a prominent industrialist in the town. She spends her days is a dreary and inescapable cycle of meaningless repetition. She is compelled by the notion of an unbridled passion so strong that it could lead to such violence. Against all social convention, Anne returns the following day to the working-class cafe in the seedy part of town and orders wine. She gulps the wine to steady her nerves.

The only other customer in the cafe is Chauvin, a young unemployed man who has previously been employed by Anne's husband. Chauvin approaches Anne, and they converse about the man and the dead woman. They sit together at a table and Chauvin weaves an imaginary tale of passion and intrigue. Anne is taken in by his speculation. The two characters spend time discussing their lives. Anne always leaves the cafe when a siren announces the end of the working day, returning to her large house in the exclusive section of town.

Anne returns to the cafe over several evenings, meeting Chauvin for more hours of wine drinking and story telling. Hundreds of workers observe the boss' wife drinking wine with a younger working-class man in a cafe and gossip rapidly spreads throughout the town. Anne and Chauvin seem deliberately ignorant of the gossip and continue to feel an overwhelming but only vaguely sexual desire to consummate their passion. Their only release is through wine, which also serves to perversely heighten their need. Their co-authored fiction about the nature of the relationship between the man and the woman gradually becomes allegorical of their own story of desire and lust.

One night Anne returns home drunk and hours late. She discovers a house full of dinner guests and a disgraced husband who tries to make apologies for her behavior. The guests eagerly devour the dinner in a great show of gluttony while Anne continues to drink wine and eschew food. Her husband becomes aware of her presumed infidelity. Meanwhile, a crazed Chauvin circles Anne's house, waiting for an opportunity, which will never materialize. Eventually Anne's husband sends her upstairs. She looks for Chauvin but he has already left. Anne vomits and passes out at the foot of her child's bed.

Two days later Anne returns to the cafe. She is, for the first time, without her child. Her husband has apparently thrown her out. She finds Chauvin distant and angry. They talk but the discussion is mean-spirited and disingenuous. For the first time Anne touches Chauvin, placing her hand on his. The touch is cold and emotionless, simply an act to have the act accomplished. Anne then kisses Chauvin and the two embrace in a cold and vapid embrace. The meaningless physical act accomplished, Anne leaves the cafe as Chauvin sits and stares blankly.

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